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In my nearly 20 year career in fashion, one thing I am frequently asked about is how I got my start in the industry. While things have changed significantly since I was 21 and just out of college—fashion is a much more competitive field now—many of the basic principles for embarking on a successful professional path remain the same. Below are my pointers to keep in mind when beginning your own career!
How RZ Got Her Start + Advice You Can Apply To Your Own Career
Photo: Getty Images
My number-one piece of advice? Do what you love. It is the only thing that will keep you going through long days, stressful situations and a low bank account balance. When I was a fashion assistant at YM magazine, I worked literally on my hands and knees all day long, doing everything from packing and unpacking boxes to running around New York City in blizzards on foot (in heels!) moving full wardrobe trunks solo. It was physically taxing on a person of my height and build, but I did it all with a smile on my face and I never once complained, because I felt it was such a privilege to be around what I love while working towards a higher goal.
No matter if you are just out of school or contemplating a career change, you have to start somewhere. If fashion is your dream, I recommend getting your foot in the door with an internship at a magazine or with a designer. I can’t stress enough how crucial internships are to enhance any vocational path. Do it as much as you possibly can, even take on two internships at once - the connections and on-the-ground knowledge are indispensable. More often than not in my company, we hire interns because I can spot the stars within the first week on the job.
If you show up every day and give your job your 110% at all times, eventually you will get noticed. It may not happen as quickly as you like, but at some point the stars will align and you’ll get your first big break. For me that came in the form of Tommy Hilfiger hiring me to style a huge ad campaign. I was only about a month into my freelance career at the time, and I was terrified. The job came with a big budget and two-week time frame, in which we shot a cast of Young Hollywood actors, models and singers both in Austin and Los Angeles. The concept was to recreate the White House, so there was even a helicopter! To this day, it is still one of the sickest productions I have ever worked on. I am eternally grateful to Tommy for taking a chance on me, because it not only led me to book many more jobs, but it also gave me a huge boost of confidence and I proved my competence to myself!
As I’m sure most people can relate, I was faced with situations in the beginning of my career that made me want to give up (I still have those moments today!). I was working with higher-ups that were particularly tough on me, which you will encounter in any industry, but rather than surrender and walk out the door, I chose to look at the road bump as an opportunity to test my strength. Looking back now, I can see that the frustrating circumstances actually helped me realize my desire to work for myself. The moral of the story: when you are ready to walk, step back, breathe and contemplate the bigger picture and potential triumph.
You will have to make sacrifices at every level in your career, but typically most in the beginning. When I first started freelance styling, I had to miss everything – weddings, showers, birthdays - because I never wanted to turn down a job in fear of losing an opportunity. In retrospect, I regret having missed special moments and making the choice to do so was never easy. In the long run it paid off because that time is now spent with my boys.